Drinking alcohol can make the coronavirus worse, the WHO says in recommending restricting access

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A view of people waiting in line at Cork & Bottle liquor store on 1st Avenue as the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States on March 21, 2020 in New York City.

Cindy Ord | Getty Images

Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of catching Covid-19 and make it worse if you do get it,  the World Health Organization said, recommending that government leaders around the world limit its access during coronavirus lockdowns.

“Alcohol compromises the body’s immune system and increases the risk of adverse health outcomes,” the WHO’s regional office for Europe said on its site late Tuesday, citing heavy alcohol use throughout the continent.

Alcohol consumption is associated with a number of communicable and noncommunicable diseases, which can make a person more vulnerable to contracting Covid-19. It can also exacerbate mental health issues, risk-taking behavior and stoke violence, especially in countries that have implemented social distancing measures that largely keep the population quarantined in their homes.

The United Nations’s health agency also published a factsheet dispelling the “dangerous myth” that drinking high-strength alcohol can kill” the coronavirus. 

“It does not,” the WHO said, adding that it could result in serious health issues, including death, especially if it’s adulterated with methanol. About 3 million deaths a year are attributable to alcohol without a pandemic driving up consumption.

“Therefore, people should minimize their alcohol consumption at any time, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the office said.

Americans are nonetheless stocking up. Alcohol sales at U.S. liquor and grocery stores were up 22% for the week ending March 28 compared to the same time last year, according to data compiled by Nielsen. And more Americans are drinking at home, according to financial services company Rabobank, as the market for on-site dining and drinking stands to miss out on $15 billion in alcohol sales over the next two months. 

As millions around the world stay home to curb the spread of Covid-19, António Guterres, chief of the United Nations, which is the parent organization of the WHO, warned earlier this month that the world is witnessing a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence.” He said the social and economic stress of the outbreak as well as restrictions on movement have all contributed to the surge in abuse.

Last month, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus offered advice on how to stay physically and mentally healthy under lockdown measures. 

“During this difficult time, it’s important to continue looking after your physical and mental health. This will not only help you in the long-term, it will also help you fight COVID-19 if you get it,” Tedros said. Here’s WHO’s advice for keeping healthy:

  • Eat healthy to boost your immune system.
  • Limit alcohol and sugary drinks.
  • Don’t smoke. It can exacerbate COVID-19 symptoms and increase your risk of getting seriously sick.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day for adults and an hour a day for kids.
  • If you’re allowed to go outside, go for a walk, run or bike ride while keeping a safe distance from others.
  • If you can’t leave the house, dance, do some yoga or walk up and down the stairs.
  • People working from home shouldn’t sit too long in the same position. 
  • Take a 3 minute break every 30 minutes.
  • Get your mind off of the crisis. Listen to music, read a book or play a game.

“It’s normal to feel stressed, confused and scared during a crisis.Talking to people you know and trust can help,” Tedros said. “And try not to read or watch too much news if it makes you anxious. Get your information from reliable sources once or twice a day.”

CNBC’s Amelia Lucas and Dawn Kopecki contributed to this report.

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